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Double-Gloving: Are There Really Benefits to Wearing Two Gloves?

by Julie on April 18, 2017

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While the health of a worker’s hands is important in every industry, it’s arguably most critical for medical professionals.

There’s an extensive history in medicine of finding simple solutions to enormous problems. In 1847 doctors experimented with hand washing between autopsies and patient exams. Patient mortality rates dropped by 90 percent in two months because of it.

In the 1980s, universal precautions required healthcare workers to don gloves before examining patients, lowering the transfer rates of communicable diseases.
doctor holding a syringe and a test tube
Keeping hands safe in medicine is difficult because these workers face hazards like industrial trades — cuts, poor grip, punctures. But unlike other industries, medicine only has one option: the disposable glove.

The simple solution found to this problem was the idea of ‘double-gloving’ or wearing two pairs of gloves. This post explores the benefits of double-gloving.


Why Double Gloving?

You might be wondering why double-gloving would be necessary, since disposable gloves should be impenetrable.

While disposable gloves go through many quality assurance tests during the manufacturing process to limit risks as much as possible, some permeation is possible.

One test, based on standards from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is the ‘pinhole leak test.’

In this test, a selection of gloves are filled with water and hung upside down for two minutes to see if they will retain the water.

These tests are based on acceptable quality limits (AQLs), or the percentage of gloves in a batch that have to pass the test for the entire batch to be approved for commercial use.

Pinhole leaks may still exist in gloves that are sold, however double-gloving can reduce the risk of exposure to patient blood by up to 87 percent, even if the outer glove is punctured.


Double Gloving in Operating Rooms:

Gloves ripping or tearing is not an uncommon occurrence in the medical profession. Perforation rates vary between 40 percent and 61 percent depending on the area in the hospital a job is being performed.

There are many risks facing medical professionals working in an operating room. Nurses and doctors operating on patients are passing scalpels, needles and other sharp objects. In these high tense situations, cuts and needlestick injuries are reported in 1 in 6 operations. However, double-gloving can reduce the volume of blood on a suture needle by up to 95 percent.
nurses and doctors in operating room performing a surgery


Barehand Feeling with Double Gloving:

When universal practices were first introduced to hospitals, nurses complained that they couldn’t find veins or insert IVs when wearing disposable gloves. Overtime nurses became more comfortable moving in gloves and it was easier to complete those tasks.

Studies that looked at the difference in hand feel and movement between single- and double-gloving found that there is no noticeable difference. In one study, three scenarios were tested:

  1. Wearing the same glove size inside and out
  2. Wearing a larger glove on the inside
  3. Wearing a larger glove on the outside

Of the 17 surgeons involved in the study, the third option was found to be the most comfortable. The surgeons were also evaluated on their ability to tie surgical knots and found no difference between wearing one or two gloves.

Those in the test also found that the more often they practiced double-gloving, the less likely they were to experience decreased hand sensation. It takes as little as two days to get used to wearing two sets of gloves.


The Proper Technique for Double Gloving:

Even though the study above concluded that wearing a larger glove on the outside was the most comfortable, it doesn’t mean that is the only option. If you are going in to the practice of double-gloving, you should try different combinations to find the right balance between feel and protection.
double-gloving with two-color glove system


Two-Color Glove System:

A best practice when double-gloving is to select a different color for each layer. This is because perforation of single-gloves is often not detected during operations. This increases the risk of blood-borne infections. Incorporating a second color  has two benefits:

  1. Double-gloving significantly reduces the change of perforation
  2. If tearing does occur, it will be easier for the eye to spot

In situations where the top glove has ripped, it’s best to replace both gloves for safety purposes.

The most amazing thing about these statistics is how an extra 0.004 of an inch can provide so much extra protection.


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